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Medical Units of 2 NZEF in Middle East and Italy

1 General Hospital at Senigallia

1 General Hospital at Senigallia

At the end of August 1 General Hospital moved 310 miles up the Adriatic coast from Molfetta to Senigallia, north of Ancona. An advanced party had earlier begun the necessary reconstruction to suit the hospital's needs there. When this party arrived, the enemy was only two towns away up the coast, and towns are not far apart in Italy. The switching of the Division back to the Adriatic coast had created a need for the rapid move forward of 1 General Hospital, which had now become the advanced hospital.

The new hospital site at Senigallia was on the beach, in what had been a health resort for children and, latterly, a German military hospital. On the pale blue walls of one ward were bright paintings of Pinocchio, Donald Duck, and Mickey Mouse. They gave Fascist salutes and shouted Avare il Duce at appropriate intervals. The patients later came to like the rejuvenating atmosphere they created, even if they did not agree with the sentiments expressed. In any case, Mussolini had been well pushed off his pedestal by this time.

The central building lent itself to conversion to the needs of the administrative, laboratory, X-ray, and other departments. A walk beneath a vine-covered pergola brought one to a two-storied building used as a surgical block. It showed on all sides more window than wall. The smaller, detached buildings were to become a sisters' and nurses' mess. Tents had to provide all other accommodation. New Zealand engineers built access roads and other conveniences, while Italian labourers worked on inside alterations. Divisional medical units helped to erect tents.

Lt-Gen Freyberg, following an aeroplane accident, was admitted to the hospital on 3 September. While alterations were still being made to the surgical block, he was the first patient operated on in the new hospital.

The hospital was soon busy coping with an inrush of patients. The bed state had reached the high figure of 839 by 26 September, the total admissions for the month being 1667. Of these, 632 were evacuated to 3 General Hospital by hospital ship from Ancona and 189 by hospital train to 2 General Hospital.

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The main highway passed the entrance to the hospital at Senigallia, and there was a continual noise from the endless chain of transport moving up to the front line and from planes droning overhead. During the last few weeks of summer and in the early autumn, it was enjoyable for the staff living in tents by the sea, but when the rains came and the sea breezes turned to boisterous gales and the ground underfoot became waterlogged, it was another story. Every effort was made to erect huts as early as possible, and soon Nissen huts were dotted over the hospital area.

Battle casualties and infective hepatitis cases kept the unit busy in October. The average bed state was 587, but with the Division out of the line for most of November there was a consequent easing of pressure on the surgeons. Large numbers of patients continued to be evacuated to 3 General Hospital at Bari and 2 General Hospital at Caserta.

To the sisters of 1 General Hospital, who had long been in a base hospital, the task of setting up in a forward area, living under tented conditions, was new and interesting. Planning their tented homes and improvising ways and means for more convenient living had its humorous moments. One sister wanting a clothes-line found a long length of suitable wire attached to the fence, so cheerfully cut off a length sufficient for her requirements, quite unaware that telephonic communications would be abruptly interrupted.